Nerdy Girls

This essay is a must-read:

The basic premise is about the nerdy male’s fantasy of landing the hot girl, as is promised in many media sources, and how it sets male expectations about sex and women in general, and how none of that is an excuse for the integrated misogyny that results.  I’m not going to rehash the whole essay, because he says it better than I, but it got me thinking about my own experience in relation to it.

One point the author brings up is The Big Bang Theory.  Now, I love The Big Bang Theory.  As a gamer girl who loves anime, fantasy, comics and RP, I think it’s hilarious, but it definitely does have its failures.  One of the main ones is the tropes the author refers to, where the nerdy, lonely guys lust after the gorgeous, non-nerdy girl.  Said “normal” girl dates hot jerks who treat her terribly until she realizes lonely nerdy guy is wonderful, and dumps hot idiot boy and starts banging the lonely nerd.  Pretty standard story, really.

One thing of note is that the nerdy guy is not expected to change, and the hot girl “sees through” him to how amazing he is.  He does not have to destroy his core self to land the girl.  This sets an unreasonable standard–women only like jerks until they meet the “nice guy” and realize how stupid they’ve been.  In popular media, the same is not true for women.  A “nerdy girl” just needs a makeover. Take her glasses off, fluff up her hair and put some eyeshadow on her, and then she’ll realize she doesn’t like science!  She likes cool guys and cars and sex now, yay!  Happily ever after!  After all, if you have a hot guy, your life is complete!

Let’s talk about women.  I’ve known women who dated jerks; they still do.  They tend to be women beaten down by stereotypes.  They’ve learned, through family, society and media that their goal in life is to be pretty and have a hot guy, and they’re dismayed when they find themselves unhappy, so they date a different guy.  For these women, any man is better than none.  They believe that there’s a magical happily ever after somewhere, because that’s the pitfall that little girls are taught.  It’s the princess fantasy–find a beautiful, sweet, rich man and ride off into the sunset.  I knew a kindergartner who came to school one day wearing caked-on makeup.  When we told her mother she couldn’t wear it to school, she cried, “But–how will she find a boyfriend?”  This little girl stands no chance, and yes, she will be the one to date men who take advantage of her, because that’s what’s expected of her.  She’s not expected to be smart, unique or valuable.  She’s expected to be an accessory, and that is what she will learn unless someone steps in.

Some women have a strong handle on their lives and know what they want, and they’ve known from the beginning.  I admire these women; they are able to get through their teen and young adult years relatively unscathed.  I don’t know many of them, and I don’t really know what creates them.

Then there’s us nerdy girls.  I can only speak for myself, and what I’ve seen. From the time I was little, I was told I could be anything I wanted, that my thoughts were valuable, that I was talented and strong.  I believed that until I hit about seventh grade, and then I really started listening to media and watching my peers.  Girls weren’t supposed to be smart or talented.  They weren’t supposed to play video games or read comics.  They were supposed to be cheerleaders and prom queens.  They were supposed to be thin, blond and cute.  I was still proud of my talents, but I remember vividly that in class one day, the teacher asked me a question about a piece of literature, and I responded, “This would be more appealing to a younger audience because of its fantasy setting and vocabulary.”

One of the popular boys turned around and said, “God, brainiac, can’t you ever say anything normal?  No one understands anything you say.”  The other kids around him laughed.  My nickname was The Human Dictionary until tenth grade.

I was twelve years old when that happened.  I quit talking in class until I hit late high school unless I was forced, and even then I spoke as minimally as possible.  I filled whole notebooks with writing, but rarely shared them.  I learned then that I wasn’t valuable to my peers because I wasn’t the things media and peers thought I should be.  It didn’t matter if I took my glasses off or fluffed my hair; I was still not thin, blond or the prom queen.  I was sick with jealousy and misery.  I played video games and read comics in secret–bad enough I was intelligent–they couldn’t know I was a nerd too.  I saw a group of people playing Magic, and I desperately wanted to play, but I never asked.  I watched the way even those boys followed the cheerleaders around, because they’d been taught that that’s what they should get.  If they only knew me, how funny and interesting I was, maybe they wouldn’t, but I didn’t give them a chance, either.  Miscommunication all around.

When I got to college, I joined an anime club, where I met fellow writer Rachael Acks.  We had an even split of men and women, all of us terribly shy, not sure what to say, conditioned to keep ourselves hidden.  Over time, we started talking more, laughing more.  I started realizing how badly I’d needed that.  I wanted so much to have people see me for me, not for what I wanted to be.  I started cosplaying at conventions, playing video games with friends, RP’ing, and swapping comics.  I started remembering why I was important. Then, I went to Japan, and decided that since no one knew me, I’d just be whatever I pleased.  I went to Akihabara on the weekends and collected video game figurines and CDs.  I carried comics in my pockets and went to cons.  I made friends everywhere and met my husband, who, despite not being into any of my geeky hobbies, thought it was cool that I was.  It took a long time to overcome what society instilled in me, and some days I do still struggle internally, but I’m so much stronger than I was.

Most of the women I know are like this.  They’ve had to overcome the idea of what they should be and what they should want.  I’ve heard men say, “Women don’t want nice guys.”  Yes, they do.  Most women, who have a solid sense of self, want a man who respects them, treats them well, and is fun to be around.  The problem is, the men who tend to label themselves “nice” are not.  They’re men who believe that they deserve the prom queen, and if the woman they’re with isn’t the prom queen, they’re settling and she should be grateful for the attention.

I dated one of these once in college.  On our first few dates, I really liked him.  He seemed intelligent and fun, and we had a good time.  Then, one night, he simply didn’t show up for the date.  I called him to see if something had happened, and he said, “I decided to go drinking with friends instead.”  Well, I know mind games when I see them, so I didn’t call him again. After all, it wasn’t that he forgot, it was that he changed plans and was an ass about it.  When he asked to go to dinner again, I declined and told him that he had been rude to me; he hung up.  He called me drunk, a week later, to berate me for being shallow and not liking nice guys.  Apparently I was supposed to sit around pining for him, and jump at the chance to go out with him when he decided he had time and didn’t have anything better to do.  I should be grateful that he was interested in me, grateful for the attention, and he was a man and should go out with friends whenever he wanted.  I told him he should definitely go out with friends because I was done with him.  He called me an ungrateful bitch.  Afterward, I had several drunken messages that were either calling me names or apologizing for calling me names, ending in a plaintive, “I’m a nice guy!  Why don’t you like me?”  No, you are not a nice guy.  You are a controlling, nasty alcoholic. I’m fortunate that in my case, men like that have been few and far between.

This is not unique to men, of course.  I’ve known women who were just as controlling, nasty and cruel, and they too lamented that men don’t like nice women.  Both men and women have been taught that they “deserve” their fantasy no matter how skewed it may be.  I’ve seen both men and women attempt to force the other to conform to an ideal.  I’ve seen both men and women with eating disorders and despair at trying to fit an unattainable mold. Yet I still see, more often than not, that a woman should learn to turn to a man’s interests for happiness, not the other way around. That’s unacceptable.   We need to take a hard look at our society, and how we allow it to present women as something that needs to bend to a man’s interests, rather than compliment each other.

Some of you may say, Oh, come on, it’s just TV and movies.  You should just teach your daughter not to listen.  The media’s not that bad.  Just have fun.  I do.  But I also watch my daughter standing in front of magazines in the grocery store, twirling her beautiful dark hair and saying, “I wish my hair was blond so I’d be pretty.”  She realizes already that the princess, the cheerleader, and the prom queen aren’t Asian, and that she’s already behind in the scheme of the fantasy.  It’s only going to get worse.  And the only way we can combat that is to show her strong women in the media, and to teach her that the fantasy isn’t, can never be real.  We need to teach our boys the same.

For other posts detailing my experience with “nerdy guys:”


11 responses to “Nerdy Girls

  1. A few years ago I wrote a blog post where I profiled the generic “nice guy” and there really were some butthurt remarks from guys on that post. But it’s very very true and ingrained in our culture. It is exactly as you write it here, and when I have the energy for it, it makes me livid. Good post!

  2. Oh, and don’t get me started on nerd guys who don’t look twice on nerd girls, or even see them as invaders on “their” turf. It’s so tiring. Also: media today treat nerd girls as a “new phenomena”, but they have been around for generations. At Starfest and many cons, particularly science fiction related ones, there are many women, and many of them are grandmothers today!

  3. And this is why I think your husband (and Rachael’s) are two of the most awesome guys in the whole wide world. They both saw two of the most wonderful women I’ve ever met and were smart enough to fall in love.

  4. Wow, what an amazing read and the perfect first article to start my day. I’m going to be honest I started reading your article expecting a great gamer girls life story, but what I got was an insightful piece of literature that I believe all young people should read, and most of all appreciate. You described the male and female sides of expectation perfectly. I can’t hope to know how females think 100% but as a male I can say you are spot on. We are thought to go for the stereotypical hot chick, and that person has a distint look. I won’t even try to pass myself off as innocent of not being a jerk when it comes to girls that didn’t fit the template. As I grew older however the template changed and now it less of a template based on socially acceptable standards and much more based on qualities I consider valuable. Its a hard process to change the way you have been conditioned to think, but I guess the first step is knowing that a change needs to be made and making strides to do so.
    I’m a fan of this article and of you now for writing it. I would like to ask your permission to share it on our Facebook page and other social networks. No matter your response,I’d like to thank you for the wonderful read, “thank you”.

    • Thank you so much! I appreciate your comments; it’s interesting for me to hear the male point of view, too. You are absolutely welcome to share it wherever you like; thank you!

    • Spot on.

      I’d have to say, the impact of media and society cannot be understated. It’s not obvious, but rather subtle and insidious.

      For example, I grew up in a happy, loving family. My parents where fairly openly affectionate, and never abused each other at all. I was taught from a young age that to be a man meant respecting women, never being abusive (be that physically, mentally or emotionally) and all that.

      But there were severe problems with the whole thing. Problems I didn’t understand till very late in life. I was basically taught to put women on a pedestal. It leads to young men believing that women aren’t really people. You’d never say it that way, but that’s really what’s happening. Media reinforces this to an astounding degree, where you’re taught time and time again that women are essentially prizes, and its through your actions, your demonstration of masculinity (what that means specifically depends on your upbringing) that you’ll be basically awarded a beautiful woman who’ll love you.

      You end up with a girlfriend, who gets placed upon a pedestal and worshipped. But this can only lead to unhappiness – she’s human, she’ll make mistakes. You’ll make mistakes. Sometimes you won’t deal with these mistakes well, and that’s where the problems arise.

      These guys, these well meaning “nice guys”, don’t know how to handle that. They take it to heart, internalise problems, and either blame themselves or lash out (or both), and that’s very destructive for a relationship. They’re totally unprepared for the reality of a relationship – that its two human flawed humans, not a guy and his prize/goddess.

      And this is where a lot of guys who think they’re nice guys fall down. They may well mean to be nice guys, and want to be, but they’ve got totally unrealistic expectations, and they just don’t understand the simple truth: when you’re looking for a relationship, you need to be looking for an friend first and foremost.

      Sadly, where can young men learn this, when all they ever hear is how women will be prizes when:

      * They save them – leading to situations where men basically target vulnerable women because they’re “saveable”
      * They do well in something – do well in sports, and that sexy cheerleader is your prize.
      * Show how awesome they are – you know that asshole geek guy who’s always one upping everyone, and ends up being an insufferable arrogant dick? The one who can’t wait to show off his breadth of knowledge about whatever? Yeah.

      Well, that was rambly, but hopefully not derailing.

      • Absolutely agreed, and I appreciate your comments. Not at all derailing! 🙂 Hearing the flip side is interesting, and I agree that the media is responsible for a great many unreasonable expectations. I know several women who fed into the same myth, and assumed that if they were just nice enough, pretty enough, etc., they’d be on that pedestal and find their Prince Charming, who could do no wrong. Their relationships fell apart for the same reason…it’s hard to maintain that “prize” image when she’s not perfect.

        I agree too about the “nice guys.” I’ve known several men who were disillusioned, and they cast off a vibe of desperation or flat out whining about how they couldn’t find anyone who liked them. They had female friends, but only wanted that perfect girl for a girlfriend. Most of them, fortunately, realized that they were chasing dreams and straightened out into genuinely cool guys.

        I wish I had an easy answer, but it’s hard to fight against such ingrained ideals. I’ve written several posts about trying to deal with my daughter’s princess fixation and finding strong female role models in the media. It’s been an incredible struggle, and I know it’ll be much worse when she’s a teenager. I’m glad to see, though, that dialogue is opening up about these issues.

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